I have learned, over the last 6-and-a-third years, to kick myself when I underestimate my child. I am continuously learning to never to make assumptions. It's something so many of us parents of children with Down syndrome learn pretty early on as we advocate for our loved ones and learn how to teach to them in ways we never knew existed. As the old adage goes, "never assume because it makes an Ass out of U and Me." So true.
We've been lucky never to have people pre-judge Samantha, at least not to our knowledge anyway. Maybe they do, but they have enough sense to keep their mouths shut, and, hopefully, to feel really guilty for it when they discover that they were oh, SO wrong. How can you make a judgemental statement in front of a parent that looks completely, hoplessly oblivious about their child's diagnosis? Oh, we are not oblivious, of that you can be sure, but, as I've said many, many times before, our lives do not revolve around Down syndrome. Let some poor fool open their mouth to state what they may feel is obvious, and pull us from our reverie that blossoms out of the truly ordinary lives we lead, and you'll find two wide-eyed, slack-jawed adults caught completely off-guard who may, given the right location, set you painfully straight.
Down syndrome awareness includes the abolition of incorrect and dated stereotypes and a focus on the abilities of people with Ds. 20 years ago, only a small handful of the population would have been able to tell you that people with Down syndrome could walk, talk, learn, read, have feelings, have friends, live independently, love... I find the 21st century to be more enlightened, although the assumptions of inability are still there. Hell, I make them myself! Any parent, whether one of a child with Down syndrome or not, is capable of making assumptions about their child, assuming they can't do something that seems to be above their learning level, assuming they will lead a particular life/lifestyle as they grow up, assuming any number of things.
Personally, I tend to underestimate Samantha in so many ways, on so many occasions. And yes, if that makes me an ass, then that's what I am, and it's a flaw I am working hard to correct. She has shown me time and time again that I am, although she is not yet able to give voice to that particular term (and I will not assume she won't at some given time in the future...). Did I ever think she would have such a brilliant sense of humor? No way. And is she really, purposefully funny? Heck yeah! Did I ever think she would be able to learn, academically, as she does? No way. But it fills me with indescribable and overwhelming pride to see her keeping up with so many of her classmates in so many aspects of her school day. Have I seen some of her peers, perhaps those without spoken language abilities still have incredible receptive language? Just because someone can't speak does not mean they don't understand or aren't trying to communicate - the incorrect assumptions here run rampant, sadly, and the aftereffects tragic.
Rather than making assumptions about what someone can't do, perhaps opening ourselves up to have our minds blown by the abilities of people with disabilities is the more appropriate way to go about our lives. And, if I'm being honest, the act of having our minds blown by someone's abilities means that we may have had a preconceived assumption beforehand already. Perhaps the better way to go would be to see these incredible abilities and know that they're the norm. To not be surprised or blown away by them, to see them as the everyday, run-of-the-mill things that people do.
Now that would be a new day for our kids, and a lot fewer asses on the planet.
(btw, I'm still taking questions for next week's Q&A...please visit yesterday's post to leave them for me!)